Ayn Rand And The Use Of Force In Capitalism


I wanted to write here– hopefully relatively briefly– concerning Ayn Rand’s view of the proper role for Government to play, which for her is tantamount to a description of when Force is acceptable, for Rand’s view is that Government should limit itself to playing the role of the Ultimate Enforcer… the guy who comes and breaks your leg if you don’t fulfill your end of a bargain or if you hurt somebody ya shouldn’ta.

One of Rand’s less radical propositions in this area is that Government should possess the “monopoly on force.” This is actually a fairly standard line in political theory, meaning that citizens should cede to the government their right of physical self-defense or retribution. If someone wrongs you, you should not punch them in the face, but bring an action to court and (if all goes well) have the government punch them in the face. Personally, I feel the major drawback to this system is that going through the courts is soooo much less satisfying than punching some bastard in the face. On the other hand, history has proven that ceding this function to government greatly reduces those vicious vendetta cycles which start and almost never end between feuding clans whose members assume the roles of vigilantes or revenge-seekers.

Also, it should be noted that when government possesses the monopoly on force, it also takes on the role and responsibility of defending citizens against attacks from non-domestic sources.

Additionally, and very importantly for Rand, government-as-leg-breaker will become the enforcer of contracts– ultimately, the ONLY enforcer.

Rand is adamant that the individual should NEVER be the first to use force. Every interaction between individuals, at least ideally, should be voluntary and mutually desired (it doesn’t have to even be mutually beneficial… just desired, whether wise or unwise, beneficial or harmful to the participators).

I’ve never been convinced that Rand’s prohibition of First Use Of Force fits snugly within her philosophy. This is because Rand’s quite rationally deduced ethics state that Selfishness is the ultimate virtue and that those who can get, should get — all they can, devil take the unworthy hindmost. The world obviously belongs to the smart, to the wily, to the business-savvy, to the ambitious, to the greedy, to the rich, to the talented, and to the educated. But if these superior persons are assumed to possess the full, virtuous right to get all they can… why should we deny them the use of physical force as well? In other words, why should the highly intelligent be allowed to use their exceptional talents to screw-over everyone else, but not the highly muscular? or the heavily armed? or the well-allied? The line between direct and indirect force seems, philosophically speaking, an arbitrary line to draw– especially in Capitalism…

Capitalism wouldn’t exist without the constant threat of force hanging in the air like a million suspended swords. It is the threat of force which keeps people from stealing, or trespassing on, the private property of Capitalists (at least in Capitalism the way we practice it). It appears that the only way to maintain a system of such unequal distribution of wealth is to employ a large section of the population in the Force Business– police, judges, prisons, execution facilities, border guards, armies, etc. Force pervades Capitalism.

Seems to me that there are countless instances wherein the use of force and the use of Rand’s allowable “economic” activities result in the same net state of affairs. For instance, if an economy is set up in such a way that a certain man is unable to purchase an item he desires, and he cannot simply seize that item due to certain rules enforced by the State’s police power, then he must go without that item due to the force possessed by the State. On the other hand, if the same man dug up that same item on the public beach, and another man came and ripped it from his hands and ran off with it, then what is the net result in this instance? The same: the man must go without the item he wants due to someone else’s possession of force.

What Rand’s proscription against the use of first-force feels like to me is no more than a rule she has imposed upon a game which she thinks the human race should play. To play a game, you have to have rules, and those rules, though logical, are in a sense arbitrary. They exist only to abet the game. Often, rules are added to games ad hoc as people connive ways– ways unforeseen by the game-makers– to get around the previously existing rules and win.

It feels to me like the rule of “no first use of force” has been issued by Rand as a way to keep the game of Capitalism going. The game of Capitalism breaks down if goods are merely seized and not constructed, and if workers are enslaved without being given some tokens to drop into the magic jukebox that keeps the discs spinning.

So to change metaphors yet again, Rand attaches this anti-force rule like a patch over her intricately woven garment. It’s the minimum limitation she can impose upon her favored wolves and still keep the hunt going.

Otherwise, as long as you don’t use direct physical violence against someone, you are free to use and abuse them as you will under Rand’s version of “pure” Capitalism




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